Family came first in the race to ignite Bruce Slade’s passion for the thoroughbred and lit the touch paper to spark a thirst for racing knowledge and drive for breeding success that has taken him on a global journey.
A close relative introduced him to the industry and after garnering experience in overseas racing jurisdictions, Slade is now the popular and respected General Manager at the progressive Newgate Farm in the Hunter Valley.
He accepted the position in 2015 at the invitation of Henry Field, who he cites as a major influence on his career, along with firstly his uncle John Slade and in between times the Australian Hall of Fame trainer Gai Waterhouse.
“There are a lot of different people who come into your life at different times to shape you and sharpen you up,” he said.
“As an overview in terms of industry and life lessons, it was my Uncle John who I initially got the bug from and after that I knew I wanted to be in the industry.
“There are a lot of different people who come into your life at different times to shape you and sharpen you up.” – Bruce Slade.
“From there it was Gai Waterhouse and now Henry have been the three main influences in my professional career. Along the way there have been a lot of supportive people. Michael Martin from the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association was a guy I could always call up and have a chat to about which direction I was headed. I could bounce ideas off him.”
John Slade formerly ran Summerhill Stud in South Africa, which is where the story has its roots.
“He was very successful there, but like anyone in South Africa, he had a couple of runs ins and he didn’t feel he and his family were safe there.
“He got to New Zealand via the United Kingdom and then my Mum, my sister and I were able to get out of South Africa too and went to New Zealand in 1998.
“My uncle was a very good studmaster and started a stud farm in Canterbury. He subsequently chose to take up a position back in South Africa with Maine Chance Farm.
“He was a very good horseman and very much a purist in terms of wanting to grow good racehorses.” – Bruce Slade.
“My other uncle Allan then stepped into the Christchurch operation and renamed it Slade Farm and had a go as well.
“We lived in Waikari, which is North Canterbury and that’s where the stud farm was. I didn’t have much to do with horses up until then and while we were waiting for our visas and residency we lived on the farm with my uncle and his family.
“I was at school and in the afternoons and on weekends worked with all the horses. That was my first taste of farming and bloodstock.”
Slade learned his lessons well from his uncle and knew that was the industry path he wanted to follow.
“He was a very good horseman and very much a purist in terms of wanting to grow good racehorses. He had a lot of success breeding top racehorses on different farms.
“In South Africa, there is a premiership for breeders based on prize money won and the farms he managed were top of the game. He was very knowledgeable and skilful and that’s where I got my passion from.”
At his uncle’s encouragement, Slade also made contact with a global thoroughbred giant.
“He got me to write to the guys at Coolmore – Duncan Grimley and Michael Kirwan were there – and every year they’d send me the brochure,” he said.
“I can still remember the 1997 one with Thunder Gulch on the front. That set my global perspective on things. I studied the pedigrees and also the people involved in the game in Australia, as Coolmore often had pictures of leading breeders and buyers in the brochure.”
During his school holidays, Slade ventured further afield and worked at Bloomsbury Stud, Highview, Rich Hill Stud and Arrowfield in Australia.
“I finished up High School and had a gap year and went back to South Africa with my uncle and did the other half of the breeding season with Rich Hill,” he said.
“Mum was very keen for me to go University and I did that and got a Bachelor of Commerce, but knowing that I always wanted to be involved with horses.
“It was a great time at Otago University and funnily enough at the same time there were a few of us in the racing game including Vicky Leonard, who is obviously now with TDN and Kick, Mike Rennie who is working for Waikato Stud and Andy Williams, who is now a bloodstock agent in his own right.”
During his Otago days, Slade worked for the Anderton family’s White Robe Lodge Stud, located just outside Dunedin, based on the breeding side of the farm run by Wayne and Karen Stewart.
Slade subsequently won the 2008 NZTBA Sunline International Management Scholarship, which opened new doors and he spent time at Cheveley Park Stud in England, at Coolmore’s operation in Ireland and at Taylor Made Farm in the United States.
“It’s a great scholarship the industry in New Zealand put together,” Slade said. “To work with top end management at three leading farms around the world was incredible. It was a great overall experience.”
On his return to New Zealand, he took up a dual role as Marketing Assistant and South Island Bloodstock Representative/Auctioneer for New Zealand Bloodstock.
“I had my heart set on being an auctioneer and I got the opportunity to do that here,” Slade said. “Petrea Vela was very good to me there and she was Gai-like in that she demanded perfection. I had to write the marketing stories and needless to say my use of the English language improved greatly under Petrea.”
Then followed an out of the blue meeting with Gai Waterhouse, which was to change Slade’s career direction.
“I was bid spotting at the National Yearling Sale and I used to be quite a passionate bid spotter,” he said. “I felt like every bid meant so much to people. ”
“Gai didn’t know me and walked down and said young man I’d like to offer you a job in Sydney. I said thanks very much, very kind. I said I’d like to think about it and she said don’t think about it, just come and so I arrived in Sydney to a job that didn’t really exist.”
The first role Slade took on was to help Waterhouse edit her book and publicise that book, a role he hadn’t had experience with, travelling around co-ordinating book launches.
“I then got into the role as Racing Manager under Kate Grimwade, who went to Godolphin after that in the UK. She’s a great person and a hard worker and had a great way about her.”
Slade was also in for a few early surprises working with the Waterhouse operation, during a period where he met wife Natasha with whom he has two young boys.
“The first thing Gai did was send me to David Jones for a new wardrobe. I was at Rob’s hairdresser the next afternoon because I was a bit rough around the edges,” he said.
“The first thing Gai did was send me to David Jones for a new wardrobe.” – Bruce Slade.
“She sent me to driving school again, because I wasn’t up to scratch driving her around. I was 23 there with a group of 16-year-olds doing a defensive driving course.
“She’s just a perfectionist. If you thought you were too busy and under the pump she just wouldn’t take no for an answer and you learned to say yes.”
In 2013, Slade set up his own racing syndication company, Round Table Racing, which worked exclusively with Waterhouse until December 2014.
“That was quite stressful, there was a lot of money on the line,” he said. “We did 25-odd during my time at Round Table and I got to the end of the year and hadn’t slept a lot with the pressure.”
It was therefore perfect timing from Newgate’s Henry Field to approach Slade with his current job offer.
“I felt like I was going back to more security and less stress. I’d worked at a top end auction house, a top end racing stable where we won two Slippers, a Melbourne Cup, a Caulfield Cup, the Doncaster and a Magic Millions.
“It was an amazingly enjoyable time and I felt it would be great to go to a stud farm on the up. That’s the challenge we have at Newgate now.
“It was an amazingly enjoyable time and I felt it would be great to go to a stud farm on the up.” – Bruce Slade.
“Henry has an incredible mind and he’s a very dynamic guy. He’s really taught me a lot, mostly about the business side of things.”
Newgate was founded by Field in 2010 on a 250 acre leased property and has since grown in size and stature to one of the Hunter’s finest properties with a quality stallion roster and a leading yearling consignor.
“What he’s done in a short space of time I don’t think has been done before,” Slade said. “You surround yourself with the very best people, that’s where you learn the most and I’m very grateful to be part of the team.
“There’s a long way to go still and a champion stallion is the name of the game. We want to get to a point where we’re selecting stallions in such a way to increase our odds.
“What he’s done in a short space of time I don’t think has been done before.” – Bruce Slade.
“There’s never one way with Henry. He’s an incredible guy and you can hardly have an argument with him, he’s always open-minded to suggestions and pulling bits of information from different places.
“We focussed on the fastest sons and went hard with that approach and we’re more open minded than that now. A horse through that middle range like Dundeel isn’t a horse we’d necessarily have bought previously, but we’d be open to that now.
“You’ve got to keep moving and shaking with the market and adjusting all the time and that’s what Henry is really good at.”
Written by Paul Vettise for TDN AusNZ